Originally published on the Inside Small Business website

Registering a trademark converts an intangible asset into concrete property, protecting the significant investment you’re likely to make in developing your brand.

A brand is often described as a ‘trademark combined with a promise’. The holy grail of any business is to have its brand recognised as an icon to its consumers

The term ‘lovemarks’, as credited to Kevin Roberts, CEO of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, refers to the phenomenon of absolute brand loyalty to a trademark based on love and respect for the brand.1 Think Coca-Cola, Apple and Nike.

Many marketing tomes aimed at start-ups and SMEs seek to provide guidance in navigating various promotional platforms, including social media, so as to emulate the well-known successes. However, before you commit emotional and financial resources to strategies to launch, market and position a brand, it is important to make sure your business does, or can, own the trademark that is about to underpin this investment. This preparatory step is often the key to business success.

Before you commit resources to strategies to launch, market and position a brand, make sure your business does, or can, own the trademark that is about to underpin this investment.

Trademarks are one form of intellectual property which, when formally registered, convert an otherwise intangible asset into concrete property. Registering a trademark provides its owner the exclusive right to use the mark in relation to the goods and services covered by the registration. It also acts to prevent competitors from being able to register trademarks that might be considered too similar.

Registering your trademark early provides confidence in the legal position before investing significantly in its market position.

There are some basic steps you can take to ensure the trademark registration process is smooth:

  • Be unique. Select a name and/or logo that is individual and distinctive!
  • Avoid descriptive names. These may be able to be used by other traders, thus there is no exclusivity and a trademark registration may not be obtained, e.g. ‘Salty Crackers’.
  • Know your market. Look at your competitors and distinguish yourself.
  • Search it. A simple search on the name can help gauge whether it’s unique, but it will save you time and money in the long run to have a professional advisor conduct a ‘clearance search’ to ensure the trademark is able to be used, and that registration is likely.
  • File it. A trademark application should be filed while the search information and market intelligence are still current.

Once a trademark is registered, its value needs to be maintained in order for it to retain its role as the bastion of the brand’s integrity. It should never be used as a generic term, noun or verb. A trademark is an adjective that describes the source of a product, e.g. an Apple computer.

In promotional materials, distinguish the trademark from other text using different font, size and colour combinations.

And, finally, once a trademark is registered use appropriate indicators, such as the ® symbol, to show how much the business values its intellectual property.